Monday, February 22, 2010

King Ranch Casserole – Revenge is a Dish Best Served Ironically Named

There are three things all real Texans love: high school football, executing people, and the King Ranch casserole. From what I hear, it's impossible to go to any sort of potluck and not see one of these.

I love posting about these regional culinary favorites, especially when no one knows for sure where the name came from. It allows me to put forth my own, often ridiculous, theory. There is indeed a King Ranch in Texas – they say it's one of the most famous ranches in the world, but as far as claiming credit for inventing this casserole goes, they're not interested. You can't really blame them…a legendary cattle ranch the birthplace of a famous chicken recipe? I don't think so.

Here's what I bet happened. You don’t build a cattle ranch without making a few enemies along the way. To get revenge, someone invented this dish and called it the King Ranch casserole just to annoy them. It was a brilliant plan. Without firing a shot, or bloodying a knuckle, they inflicted the ultimate cattleman humiliation.

Regarding this recipe, I have a few things to explain. I'm testing it for the cookbook, and so I wanted to stay true to the original formula, which explains the cans of soup. Also, as you'll hear me say in the video, I tried to add an extra layer of tortilla on the bottom, which was a mistake. It threw off the meat to grain to condensed soup ratio. Two layers are plenty; so if you make it, take note.

Lastly, since condensed soup is dangerously high in sodium, I didn't add any, but after sampling I decided that it did need some after all. Best to taste the sauce mixture and decide for yourself. Enjoy!

Meat from one cooked chicken
10 corn tortillas
1 white onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 oz cheddar cheese, grated
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 cup of chicken broth
1 can Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with green chilies
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon chipotle
teaspoon salt, maybe


KPeff said...

The sharp flavors of the less-than-cooked onions and peppers are important to King Ranch casserole. I'm speaking as a Texan, here.

Anonymous said...

Question - what's so bad about the bottom layer of tortillas, just totally out of curiosity?

dan said...

Chef John,

It looks great and I will add this to my to-do list (which is made up mostly of your recipes).
My wife doesn't eat mushrooms so can you suggest an alternate for the mushroom soup?

Thanks, Dan

Rita said...

that looks so good. i'm going to have to try that - without looking at the ingredients of the cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soups. haha!

Bob said...

Chef, Sour cream is not on list of ingredients.

asl said...

Looks good Chef! Which is surprising b/c I am the only Texan who doesn't like King Ranch Chicken. I make something similar with ground beef though lol. Anyway, I came on today to browse your soup recipes b/c we need something warm today. So far we have 2 inches of snow and we are working towards 6!

Chef John said...

KP, yes, i think i may agree and leave them raw in the cookbook.

Bob, thanks, fixed.

dan, is she allergic? because, she will never know its in there. Or just leave it out and use cream of celery.

Anonymous said...

I bought all of the ingredients and am making it tonight, Chef John. My Texan grandma makes a pretty mean King Ranch, so I'll update you on how it compares.

Chris K. said...

Here's what I bet happened:

Norma Rae needed to come up with a dish for the church potluck, something special that would show up Edna Gladney's green bean casserole (bless her heart) for good.

Norma Rae knew that her chicken á la king recipe brought all the boys to her yard, as they used to say in Gunbarrel City. Her housekeeper, Consuela, made perfect huevos rancheros.

No kitchen slouch, Norma Rae combined the best of both recipes. Subsequently she was crowned queen bee of the Gunbarrel City First Baptist Ladies' Circle, and King Ranch Chicken Casserole became a Texas legend.

I had a "Pecos Bill" version of this, but it was way too long.

Birder said...

OK... you can barely taste mushrooms in just the canned soup alone. Lost in the abyss of this melting pot, you'd pretty much have to be allergic to figure out they're in there.

This looks disgustingly salty and tasty. I may have to try! Thanks Chef!

Chef John said...

that's the funny thing, it wasn't salty at all, i gad to add some to the recipe.

dan said...


No she's not allergic - just hates mushrooms. If the pieces are tiny enough I guess she'll never know but I'll have to bury the empty can deep in the garbage.

Using canned soup is like an italian using jarred sauce.


Anonymous said...

i just read through this recipe and my nipples got hard, thanks Chef!

Chris K. said...


The use of canned soup in casseroles goes back at least to the mid-1950s, with Campbell's highly successful marketing campaign that encouraged American housewives to include their products in casserole recipes. Over the years, it's practically become tradition.

By all means, go ahead and make béchamel sauce from scratch instead. It will be delicious, but it won't be King Ranch casserole.

Kartika said...

do i have to use the cumin?

Vanessa said...

Would this recipe work with flour tortillas? I tend to prefer them over corn.

Vanessa said...

Would this recipe work with flour tortillas? I tend to prefer them over corn.

Chef John said...

Never tried. Only one way to find out. :-)

Chef John said...

Never tried. Only one way to find out. :-)

Eric said...

Slightly off the subject. Am I the only one having watching the videos in a continuous session? I'm getting breaks to build the buffer all the sudden when I'm on around 5 NY time.

baby cribs said...

Thanks for including the video! That was really nice! I am really excited of trying this one out.

GC said...

Hi Chef John,

I made this the other day and it was amazing! Thank you for sharing. The only problem I had was that mine didn't come out in a whole piece like lasagna would when you cut it (like your photo), it was sloppy and just fell onto my plate like soup. What do you think could've happened?

Thank you,

Chef John said...

I cheated, and probably let mine cool a bit more since this was shot for the cookbook.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chef,

I'm from Malaysia and I absolutely LOVE your recipes. I plan to try this one out soon for a potluck with friends but I'm kinda sure I won't be able to find ancho chile and chipotle powders in our supermarkets here.

Would you be able to suggest a substitute for these [eg. Cayenne or cajun powders] or can I use something asian instead like regular chilli powder or curry powder?

Thanks :)



Chef John said...

You can sub other chili powders but unfortunately I can't tell you how it will taste. :-)

Anonymous said...

this is good. i accidentally put in about 4 or 5 times the ancho chili powder and forgot the sour cream. it was still good. i might do less chicken broth or strain the tomatoes next time, i had too much sauce at the end, and it could be thicker (though that may be the sour cream missing). and maybe sauteing the onions. i like the raw peppers but the onions are a little too overpowering. i like how your recipes make me experiment.

rotisserie chicken is brilliant. though i have a hard time not just snacking while i'm picking it apart.

Jamaal said...

How bad an idea would it be to use a glass Pyrex for this recipe? I don't know that I have a proper casserole dish.

Chef John said...

Yes it will!

Saha said...

I'm planning on making this for my family, what kind of side dishes would you have with this dish? A Salad? Garlic bread?

Chef John said...

yes, a salad is perfect!

Simon said...

Chef John it's nice to see that you can afford to spring for the fancy designer corn tortillas! Im buying a bunch of your Mise en place shirts for my friends who were in the cooking club I started last year in highschool. (I died laughing when i read it)
I'm a huge Alton Brown fan and I was wondering if you were gonna do any more shirt designs that focus on the science of food?
Hope your doing well!

Real Texan said...

Chef John,
You said "There are three things all real Texans love: high school football, executing people, and the King Ranch casserole."

I hope that was a tongue-in-cheek comment about Texans loving to execute people. What we love is a fair sense of justice. If the punishment fits the crime, then so be it.

Chef John said...

Of course, I was making a joke! And a cheap one at that! ;)

Morgan F said...

Chef John. As a proud American your comment "There are three things all real Texans love: high school football, executing people, and the King Ranch casserole." Made me feel sick and ashamed. I will no longer come to this site, and I will tell my congregation to pray for your soul.

Jennifer F said...

Morgan, it was a joke as in not to be taken seriously?

Then again it seems less than intelligent people tend to take jokes completely seriously >.>

And just in case you couldn't tell I was being sarcastic.

Anyways all that aside. I tried the king ranch chicken casserole although because my mom walked in on me I had to quickly hide the cream of mushroom and sub it for another cream of chicken. Not too sure if that may have altered the flavor too much but regardless it turned out fabulous. Although you were right about it possibly need a touch more salt.

Jane Gabriele said...

Chef John

My son, Anthony, and I are trying this recipe for the first time. Our store sells the Ro-Tel tomatoes in 2 sizes--10 ounce and 28 ounce (you know how Wegmans is...). Which is appropriate for this recipe?


Chef John said...

The 10 oz!

makeupbyaurelie said...

Since i've tried your recipe once it's still my favourite dish EVER! i received a lot of compliments for this recipe and i can't thank you enough! don't worry i tell my guests that YOU are the real chef behind this sublime dish! of all the youtube and blogs chefs you are really the best! have a nice day Chef John!

Ben said...

I made this today and it turned out delicious! Thanks Chef!

Daniel Bottoms said...

hey John,
i grew up in America and know those "cream of blah blah" soups very well, but lived in Austria for over 22 years now and frankly never seen them here.... any idea how i can modify the recipes without ruining it? I was thinking of like sauteeing mushrooms and adding a shit-ton of creme freshe and sourcream and like onion/garlic granulate. most of those cream based quicky-soups were nothing more than a kinda beschemel soup with flavors like worschestershire sauce taste and cheap aromas and whatever in them. Care to add a thought? was thinking of doing something crazy "american" for the family next week and was browsing your hearty meals!
thx for reply if you have time!

Chef John said...

That sounds like a good plan to me. I've never looked, but I bet their are copycat recipes for those soups! Enjoy!

Daniel Bottoms said...

oooo thanks for that! i never thought to look up copycat recipes! thx! but gotta admit i miss the convenience foods sometimes. found a recipe at that more or less underlined my ideas...

will let you know how it turns out


Kimberly King said...

I tried it with flour tortillas, too wet. I think the corn tortillas absorb some juice. Ate the rest with rice and it was good.

Alice said...

Made this last night with a couple tweaks.
I couldn't find any cream of chicken soup so I used Cream of tomato in its place and decided to leave out the can of chopped tomato.
I also used a pre-chopped mix of veggies from the grocery store to try to get more veggies in the dish.
I also added corn, some black olives and jalapeño peppers. I used corn tortillas. I think corn tortillas are perfect bc if the corners aren't covered with sauce it's no problem, it just gets yummy and crunchy!
BIG success! :)

Robert Kent said...

Made this tonight. Turned out great. I always like to change recipes up when I find a good one so substituted a Poblano pepper instead of green bell. Also added 1 jalapeño without seeds. The slightly undercooked veggies definitely make this dish. You did Texas proud. Ps.. love the YouTube channel. Always looking forward to a new recipe.


Tiburcio Elguezabal said...

Gack. Chef John using canned soup. I am from Texas and this is gross. Just top it off with corn flakes like Mormon funeral potatoes! Barf-a-roo!

shawnna crystal said...

Ppl, don't complain, tweak how u suggest, add ur touch, make it yours. From Texas beans instead of taters, soggy Tortillas, don't put on bottom cook serve with Tortilla chips

Editor-In-Chief said...

Re: Real Texan said...
Seriously. We lived in Texas. Quite a few "real Texans" are not into justice. They are just humans like everyone else except perhaps a bit of a unique inferiority/ego complex.
You rock, Chef!